Yes, you read that right: I’m talking today about our trip on the road from Hana, a small village on the eastern shore of Maui. Many people are more familiar with the road to Hana as a perilous drive of twists and turns, which can take hours due to many stops along the way to see waterfalls, jungle vegetation, and a black sand beaches.
But to be honest, I thought trip getting there was pretty tame. A well-maintained two-lane highway runs along the entire stretch between Hana and the major city of Kahului. While the road is curvy, it’s not nearly as bad as my experience driving around West Maui past Kapalua.
I’ll still talk about our trip to Hana. I also want you to read to the bottom for our drive back, when we traveled around to the island’s south side on dirt roads, past rusted guardrails, and into a landscape I’ve frankly never seen on any of my previous trips to Maui, Kauai, or Oahu.
We chose to drive ourselves. If you prefer, there are many tour buses, including some that go all the way around like we did. You may also walk or take an Uber.
But I think you’ll want to take advantage of the chance to stop when you like. We were on the road from about 7:30 AM to 6 PM, going quickly and never straying far from the road. I think in the future we’ll either stay a couple nights in Hana to be closer or make trips dedicated to one or two spots (like the black sand beach at Wainapanapa State Park or the pools at O’heo).
The Road to Hana
After a very quick snack at the Regency Club we made a stop in the town of Paia for gas and a more substantial breakfast. Anthony’s Coffee Company has some good espresso and Hawaiian-style breakfast burritos.
I don’t think we really needed fuel (the whole drive used a little more than a quarter tank), but I didn’t see any gas stations along the way. Better safe that sorry.
The drive out of town was easy, and we passed the famous Mama’s Fish House as well as a few beaches and surfers. But soon we came to a long line of cars parked along the road and immediately took a spot behind them. Just around the bend is a larger parking lot and fruit farm, with access to one of the major destinations on the Road to Hana, the Twin Falls.
We did not actually see the Twin Falls because we were impatient and went toward the first sound of rushing water at another, less significant waterfall. Megan and I jumped in to swim in the cold water for 15 minutes before heading back to the car.
We also did not want to spend a couple hours hiking and swimming at the very beginning of our trip only to pass by more interesting places later. If this is enough for you, Twin Falls could easily be a day trip without completing the entire drive. That’s probably what we’ll do on a future trip to Maui.
Pressing on, we found that much of the road was very drivable. I grew up in Northern California near the Santa Cruz mountains, so this was easy. Megan grew up in the open plains of the Texas panhandle and still finds Seattle streets unnerving. It’s all about what you’re used to. Do watch out for the one-way bridges, but most traffic is heading in the same direction.
Along the way we saw a few waterfalls, but there wasn’t much water rushing in early June.
Many of our pictures were taken by Megan as we drove by, though I did try to slow down. If you have the time to stop and take some real photos — and if you have a quality camera — I learned a tip for photographing waterfalls. Besides using a tripod, increase the exposure to make the individual drops blend into a stream. My own photography skills suck, and even I was able to make it work.
By far one of our favorite places to stop was Ching’s Pond. It’s hard to miss, and if you do you can find a turnout to drive back and park by the road. Some other kids and I jumped off the rocks into the water, a fall of about 10 feet.
If you’re feeling gutsy, you can also jump off the bridge.
We drove a little further before finding the turnoff to Waianapanapa State Park, where you’ll find a true black sand beach formed as volcanic rock crashes against itself and breaks into smaller pieces. It’s crunchy and just a little unpleasant to walk on, but overall it was great find. Unfortunately we arrived along with a hundreds of tourists on their buses just as the sky began to drizzle.
We explored the nearby cave (probably a lava tube?) before heading back to the car.
Finally we made it to Hana! If you think Paia is small and quiet, this place was practically empty. Houses, yes, but not much commercial activity of any kind besides a few small motels and one (apparently overpriced) resort. The beach at the harbor also doesn’t have much to recommend itself, though we did take a nice photo.
On a Sunday afternoon, some of the already very few restaurants were closed. Fortunately Braddah Hutt was open and still serving some excellent grilled chicken, rice, and macaroni salad. I strongly recommend it.
The Road from Hana
Restored from our hearty meal, we drove onward and found ourselves much more alone, although there were some more cars heading past us in the other direction. We planned to see the scared pools at O’heo, part of the Haleakala National Park that stretches from the peak down to the shore. Presumably these people had already been and were heading home.
The houses and gardens we passed were much more scenic than those on the way into Hana. Just about everything was improved except the weather. The skies began to darken again as we arrived at the National Park and paid the $15 admission fee (which includes re-entry at the peak).
It started to rain pretty hard, as you can see from my photo of the map. We attempted the two-mile hike to the Waikmoku Falls and quickly gave up, instead taking the half-mile walk down to the pools at O’heo Gulch. It did start to lighten up as we arrived at the shore, but it was still so unpleasant we just looked around before heading back to the car.
I’ve heard the weather is much better in the morning, so maybe head straight here for the whole day, or at least come first and then hit all the other spots on your drive back. As our luck would have it, the sun came out just after we changed clothes and got back in the car.
By this time it was about 3:30 and we wanted to get home. Roughly five miles after leaving the National Park the road turned to shit. No markings and tons of potholes. What few guardrails existed were rusted through. Blind turns were everywhere. Fortunately, few cars dared to go this far. We passed only two heading the opposite direction for the rest of our trip.
The dirt roads that came next were actually an improvement, because dirt can be graded. A few more miles of that — mostly up and down steep hills with more blind corners — and we were back to potholes. But the scenery did become quite impressive.
Just before the well-paved road returns, there’s a large, broad hill that offers a tremendous view of the surrounding fields. There’s also a large lava flow toward the shore. It was very, very windy and the relative lack of trees seemed very out of place on Hawaii.
Finally, we were back on a decent highway, passing through more interesting territory. We raced by a deep gorge filled with boulders before heading up, climbing a few thousand feet and continuing our curve around the southern tip of Maui.
There were plenty signs of cows ever since we left the national park, but up here was the first time we actually saw the animals. It appeared a whole bunch got loose; just a few hundred yards ahead there were ranchers leading some back onto their trucks.
All of this was exciting, but it quickly became the most boring part of the trip. We continued climbing, it started to rain again, and we could tell we were winding our way through some residential areas in the Maui upcountry. According to what I’ve heard, Highway 31 was disconnected between South Maui and the resort area of Wailea during the construction of a golf course. We were now on Highway 37, adding what I’d guess is an extra hour to the trip home.
It wasn’t unbearable, but I didn’t appreciate being so high and cold after spending the rest of my day close to the (usually) sunny shore. Just keep this in mind if you decide to go all the way around the island like we did. Overall, it was much more scenic and interesting driving around South Maui than if we had gone back the way we came.